Date of Graduation

2001

Document Type

Dissertation/Thesis

Abstract

In this dissertation, I argue that the discourse of improvement, which stressed profit and productivity on the land and in the household, helped to define—and was defined by—class and gender ideology in the eighteenth century. I read the works of laboring class women poets, Mary Collier and Mary Leapor, and the utopian novelist, Sarah Scott, within the framework of land improvement treatises and household books. In doing so, I demonstrate how ideologies of labor and gender are inherently bound up with socioeconomic concerns about land and estate management. In Chapter one, I examine how notions of thrift found in land management treatises and household manuals written for women and servants are translated into a moral economy, beginning with Gervase Markham's The English Housewife (1611). Prescribed modes of moral behavior for women, then, arose from women's economic duty to stretch resources in the household. In Chapter two, I look at how Collier, in “The Woman's Labour” (1739), points out that much of her oppression results from the char-work that she performs for the farmer's wife—who is herself pressured to cut costs in the household by driving the servants to exhaustion. Therefore, when middle and upper class female poets, such as Lady Mary Chudleigh and Mary Barber, protest the cultural equation of their domestic roles with their virtue, they must ignore their own complicity in the oppression of lower class women. Chapter three looks at how Leapor, in “Crumble-Hall” (1751), uses landscape improvement discourse to emphasize the disenfranchisement of the laboring poor from the land. In Chapter, four, I examine how Scott's utopian novels, Millenium Hall (1762) and The History of Sir George Ellison (1766), both incorporate and counter the ideologies of land improvement treatises and household management tracts in their feminist vision of an ideal rural order. By placing Scott's novels in the context of improvement literature, we can see how conflicts concerning capitalistic agrarian economics helped to shape notions of feminism in the eighteenth century. Likewise, feminist notions of female independence and education helped to construct ideals of proper household and estate management.

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